Discussion of the archaeological ethics surrounding the collecting of antiquities and archaeological material.
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The Portable Antiquities Scheme: Discovering Our Past
I have been putting together some final thoughts on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and The Treasure Act (1996) for an invited forum piece. (I am grateful to key members of PAS who have supplied additional information, as well as to other colleagues for their comments.) I made a point of looking at the PAS display in the British Museum last week (on the way to lecture at the Institute of Archaeology) and found time to consider this important public interface.
The "past" of England and Wales is certainly being discovered and some of it is being recorded. But how much information is being lost? How much material goes unreported?
Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.
It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.
The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …
One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.
Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.
The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.
The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).
The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).
During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities”
More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.